BMCR 2020.04.09

Terence: the girl from Andros

, Terence: the girl from Andros. Aris & Phillips classical texts . Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2019. 324 p.. ISBN 9781789620115. £24.95 (pb).

[Disclosure: I am currently under contract to produce a Green and Yellow commentary on Andria for Cambridge University Press, and as will become clear, my idea of what a student-oriented commentary on a Terentian play should hope to do differs significantly from Peter Brown’s. That said, I have spent the better part of a professional lifetime learning from and being challenged by his work on Roman comedy, and as I hope becomes no less clear, my respect and admiration for his knowledge and acumen has, if anything, been further enhanced by the present exercise, and my sense of loss at his passing is, if anything, keener than ever.]

A distinguished Virgilian once told me he couldn’t imagine teaching the Aeneid in translation: what would there be to say? Perhaps that is why Aris & Phillips Classical Texts, “modern editions of Classical Greek and Latin texts, with substantial introductions and commentaries as well as the original text with facing-page English translation,” have always puzzled me. Cui bono? At least on this side of the Pond, the very objectives, not to mention the methods of teaching through translations differ markedly from teaching texts in Latin or Greek. Do we ever need or want language students to read the original with a facing translation, and how many students reading in translation need, want, or would be comfortable using a linear commentary? Yet the A&P series has always attracted top tier editors—Peter Brown joins Adrian Gratwick (Adelphoe, 1987), A. J. Brothers (Heauton timorumenos, 1988; Euuchus, 2000), Stanley Ireland (Hecyra, 1990), and Robert Maltby (Phormio, 2012) in representing Terence—and in recent years, the conditions governing the editor’s work have improved along with the series’ production values. With notes no longer keyed exclusively to the translation, the explication of language, meter, and text can now claim its due, with results that bring the series ever closer to the standards set by Oxford and Cambridge commentaries. In preparing this last of his many contributions to the study of Terence, Brown was thus able to draw upon the full range of his knowledge, experience, and interests, and the result has all the virtues we might expect of him: clear and accurate discussion of the Latin text, a keen eye for details and nuances of interpretation, scrupulously evenhanded reporting and cogent analysis of past scholarly views, and a precise English rendering of the Latin original.[1]

The series’ diverse readership demands a portmanteau style of annotation that Brown consistently carries off with matter-of-fact grace. So at 221, where the lemma is “citizen of Athens” (ciuem Atticam esse hanc), we are told that “Attica was the Greek region of which Athens was the capital,” but also that “Plautus and Terence both use the adjective Atticus, but Plautus also three times uses Atheniensis.” Then, as the note extends to the second half of the line, we learn that because the MSS reading fuit olim quidam senex breaks Meyer’s Law demanding a pure iamb when a polysyllabic word ends the second or fourth foot of a senarius, Bentley may have been right to emend to olim hinc quidam, which is what Brown prints. Yet philological detail on this level is not everything. The commentary also sets out to elucidate stage action, as at 740-95, where it provides a helpful explanation of what is happening as Mysis, in a complex and richly comic scene, is coached under Simo’s very nose to play a role she does not entirely understand.

A consistently philological orientation nevertheless tips the commentary in a decidedly conservative direction. Considerable attention is paid to textual matters, even when proposed emendations are mentioned only to be (rightly) dismissed. The fact of music gets a nod, but much more attention is paid to meter in a brief, cogent Introduction (pp. 38-46) and then as appropriate throughout the commentary, and always along very traditional lines: the inadequacies and distortions introduced by podic analysis go unmentioned, nor does the discussion give space to contemporary studies aligning metrical practice with linguistic principles.[2] Metrical considerations also give the text itself a retro look with accent marks placed over the syllables that carry the metrical “beat.” This is surely a more user-friendly practice than the sublinear dots to mark the onset of longa that Adrian Gratwick advocates, but it is perhaps too easily misconstrued, despite Brown’s warning that what look like marks of stress are “not a guide to how the words were stressed in performance” (v). There is also the philologist’s tendency to explicate what the text says but to pass over what hides between its lines, which presents a particular problem in drama, where action the script requires may not be written explicitly into that script. A commentator on a play often needs to think like a director as well as like a scholar, imagining—and encouraging readers to imagine—what an audience sees as well as understanding what it hears. At 226, for example, Davos ends his monologue with an entry cue for Mysis: sed Mysis ab ea egreditur. What prompted this remark? Brown’s stage direction suggests it is the sight of Mysis emerging from the house [“Mysis opens the door of Glycerium’shouse and starts to come out.”], but how does Davos, with the tunnel vision imposed by the actor’s mask, see Mysis behind him? He has to turn before he can see her, and what must first have attracted his attention is the sound of the opening door. The cue is explicit at 682 (sed mane: concrepuit a Glycerio ostium), as Brown duly notes, but the sequence is the same here, which is where a note on the convention would have been most helpful. While it is good to acknowledge, as the Introduction does (p. 9), that Roman actors wore masks and performed on a jerry-built stage erected in an improvised venue, it would be better still for the commentary to explore the effect of these conditions on how actors moved and spoke and how they played off each other and the audience right there at their feet.

Significantly more attention is paid throughout to the scholarly record, for Brown is meticulous in acknowledging the work of his predecessors. His respect for past opinions and those who held them recalls the working method of his great teacher, Eduard Fraenkel, who famously sought in explicating the poems of Horace “to remove …some of the crusts with which the industry of many centuries has overlaid them and to enable a sympathetic reader to listen as often as possible to the voice of the poet and as a seldom as possible to the voices of his learned patrons.” Even for Fraenkel that was easier said than done! He had to spend considerable time describing those crusts before he could sweep them away. So it is here, too, where such attention is not necessarily a virtue. Many of the old debates over Terence sound today as tedious as they are futile. How does it improve the modern student’s appreciation to be told that Rambelli in 1936, followed by Denzler in 1968, thought that Mysis in Menander’s Andria left the stage before Pamphilus’ entrance at 234, but that Steidle in 1973 and now Brown in 2019 find their arguments unconvincing? That sort of scholarship once reduced Terence, in Alison Sharrock’s cruelly apt formulation, to “a stereotype-ridden exercise in lamentable literary secondariness.”[3] Contemporary writing on Roman comedy has, happily, moved on to significantly more engaging matters than guessing what Terence did to his lost Greek models or debating whether he allowed a light syllable in the second element of the fourth foot of a senarius. Brown was not unaware of this movement—he cites, though not often, the works of such trend-setters as Toph Marshall, Amy Richlin, and Alison Sharrock—but he is much more comfortable looking in other, more traditional directions. The action at 859-68 is a good example, a moment of sudden and surprising brutality as Simo orders the thuggish Dromo to hog-tie Davos and carry him inside. Brown has more to say about the scansion of Dromo(860) and whether quadrupedem (865) is an adjective or a noun than about the shock of this scene, which is not easily paralleled in Terence (the beating of the odious pimp Sannio in Adelphoe probably comes closest), or what it says about the character of Simo, whose previously suppressed anger (e.g. 196-201) now breaks loose, or how this moment of violence measures up to the many such moments in Plautus. Simo’s conduct shocks even his neighbor Chremes (ah, ne saevi tanto opere! 868), but the commentary takes it in stride. Modern students, sensitized to issues of slavery and class, do not.

And that, I would say, is the central issue. The effort here to understand Terence is earnest, intelligent, and learned (I wish I had Peter Brown’s patience and would settle for even half his technical mastery), but “understanding” is not what it used to be. The very ground has shifted under us. The old questions that engaged scholars—Are Charinus and Byrria Terence’s invention or did he import them from Menander’s Perinthia? Does Terence grant himself the metrical license of a locus Jacobsohnianus?—are giving way to new, more pressing ones, and not always of a purely literary sort. There was a time when teachers could pass off rapes as seductions and bullying as farce, but that time is not now. Roman comedy, even Terentian comedy, touches on some of the roughest, most alienating aspects of Roman life, and if we, who know (and, yes, love) the genre well do not address these issues and help students engage with the challenges they pose, who will?


[1] The layout thus represents an advance over the 2016 edition of Auluaria by Keith Maclennan and Walter Stockert in this series, which must key no less technical notes entirely to English lemmata (rev. by J.C.B. Lowe, BMCR 2017.04.07). That edition appends a translation in something like the original meters to the facing crib. Brown’s translation is virtually unchanged from his version in the Oxford World’s Classics series (Oxford 2006), so Pamphilus still says things like, “I say, my good fellow, look here!” (616) Then again, translating Terence has never been easy. Cf. S. M. Goldberg, Terence:Andria (London 2019) 79-101.

[2] Contrast, e.g., John Barsby’s Eunuchus (Cambridge 1999), which follows a traditional account of dramatic meter (pp. 290-301) with a section on “The limitations of podic analysis” (pp. 301-4), reflecting the seminal insights of Adrian Gratwick. Admittedly, the linguists’ approach to meter can be difficult for Classicists to assimilate: cf. A. Traill, BMCR 2009.08.41 on Ben Fortson’s Language and Rhythm in Plautus (Berlin 2008). Brown’s metrical reference is C. Questa, La metrica di Plauto e di Terenzio (Urbino 2007), not the most accessible of authorities for Anglophone students.

[3] A. Sharrock, Reading Roman Comedy (Cambridge 2009) ix. Fraenkel is quoted from the Preface to his Horace(Oxford 1957) vii.